I have a confession to make: one of my absolute favourite genres is the tie-in novel. Essentially published fanfiction, I love these books because they tend to be quick, easy reads that allow me to spend time with characters I already love in the fictional universes I enjoy. While tie-in novels have to abide by the rules of canon, they are then free to go wherever they want without having to worry too much about the long term consequences of the plot. This leads to the exploration of supporting characters who rarely draw sole focus on-screen, a deeper look at character’s backstories, and, in some instances, the creation of straight-up alternative universes. Moreover, as the reader’s imagination tends to have less constraints of budget and technology the villains and set-pieces are often far more ambitious than anything that could be attempted in the source material. To celebrate the awesomeness of this oft-ignored genre I’m devoting at least one Tuesday a month to the review of a tie-in novel, starting with Halloween Rain, the first book in the expanded Buffyverse.
I remember reading Buffyverse novels on loan from the library over ten years ago, back when I was super-obsessed with the show. (I mean it – I had Buffy duvet covers.*) I recently started a re-watch of the series that will hopefully take me from beginning to end, something I’ve never quite managed before. As I’m a major completionist, I’ve decided to read the novels in publication order along with the show. Sadly, the local library no longer has a shelf dedicated to the exploits of Buffy and her pals, but most of the Buffy oeuvre is available cheap and secondhand from Amazon. Halloween Rain is handily collected in the second of a series of omnibus editions published in 2011, the covers of which feature more blood spatter than possibly the entire seven seasons of Buffy proper.
SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains some minor spoilers for the plot of Halloween Rain.
Written by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder, who would go on to write prolifically for the Buffyverse both together and apart, Halloween Rain is a pretty cracking start to the series. It takes place on Halloween as the pumpkin-headed demon Samhaim and his army of zombies rise and sets their sights on killing the Slayer. Golden and Holder have Buffy’s unique teenager-y idioms down pat and the plot, while simple, is genuinely engaging. Published on 1st November 1997 during Buffy‘s second season, but set in its first, it unfortunately runs into issues with the established canon almost straight away as the episode ‘Halloween’, which established the usual lack of supernatural activity on this spooky holiday, aired only a few days before. Non-compliance with the established facts of the source text often take me out of a story, however, I didn’t find it overly distracting in Halloween Rain as Giles’ explanation of Samhuinn as a precursor to Halloween and Samhaim as one of the immortal demons pre-dating humanity feel as though they could fit easily within the mythology of Buffy.
Nevertheless, there is some some oddness: Buffy seems rather overly malicious towards Cordelia, there’s a bizarre beat about a clown-costumed zombie, and Giles, Willow, and Xander concoct an elaborate plan to trap two vampires in the library and expose them to eventual sunlight rather than simply staking them. These things can be excused, however, by how early in the run of the show the novel was likely written and are made up for elsewhere. The simplicity of the main plot allows the authors to dwell on some well-done emotional beats concerning the early deaths of Slayers past. Though Samhaim lacks the charisma of villains like the Master, I love when when Buffy delves into its demon mythology and he works wonderfully as a truly frightening ancient threat. Meanwhile, his scarecrow body and evil pumpkin minions provide some wonderfully kitsch Halloween chills that Golden and Holder’s detailed descriptions imbue with a twisted fright factor.
The back-and-forth chase across the field gets a little repetitive, but overall Halloween Rain is a highly enjoyable outing in the style of Buffy‘s “monster of the week” format. While Golden and Holder don’t take the canon in any revelatory directions, they do include some nice character moments in Joyce’s love of gruesome horror films and Willow and Xander’s Mulder and Scully costume.
Rating: 4/5 ankle-biting pumpkins
* I still have them.
Featured Image: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season One Promotional Image © Twentieth Century Fox